When You Bring Penguins to a Gunfight – Christmas Adverts 2014


November 26, 2014 BY Lee Currie - Get free updates of new posts HERE
As the industry’s good and great fight it out for Yuletide glory, we take a look at this year’s biggest Christmas adverts and ask Who Got it Right?

Whether you’re feeling festive or not, the annual onslaught of Christmas adverts is well and truly underway. From comedy and ‘real-life’ Christmas scenes to magical tales of friendship, this year’s selection is already proving to be some of the best and the most talked-about yet.

Because Christmas adverts nowadays are about more than just product promotion. Campaigns are fought and won each year in the name of brand-allegiance; cleaving opinion and converting the non-believers along the way. The modern-day Christmas advert has got to be one of the industry’s most treasured instruments.

When You Bring Penguins to a Gunfight

Recent history has arguably placed John Lewis atop the echelon of quality Christmas adverts. It’s difficult to say exactly when they first made such an impact – I for one remember their stripped-back rendition of From Me to You quite fondly – but I’m guessing their cemented success probably had something to do with a cartoon hare and his cuddly friend.

This year, John Lewis’s much-anticipated festive spot tells a similarly saccharin tale of friendship. Only this time between a real boy and his toy penguin, Monty.

“All my little plans and schemes”, Tom Odell croons over the keys of a broken piano. “Lost like some forgotten dream. Seems like all I really was doing was waiting for you.”. John Lennon once again providing the perfect words to narrate Lewis’s festive fairytale.

The ad racked up 1.8m views on YouTube on its first day of release, and has since got mums, dads and kids across the country falling in love with Monty and buying cuddly toys of the star himself exclusive to John Lewis stores – along with a slew of Monty related products. So it may have come as a shock to many to see it eclipsed by Sainsbury’s mighty campaign harking back to World War I.

Quite literally bringing out the Big Guns, the advert follows the events on the Christmas Day truce in 1914 when British and German soldiers laid down their arms and played football together.

Released after Remembrance Day, events onscreen are made even more poignant, as silent night drifts over the snow-covered trenches, with the advert itself racking up an impressive 9m views on YouTube in its first week.

Bold, cinematic in scope and highly reverent, the advert is a beautiful tribute to those who served and died during The Great War but arguably has very little to do with Sainsbury’s – besides the nondescript bar of chocolate and biscuit featured throughout. The strength of Sainsbury’s campaign lies in the gut reaction it invokes, for better or worse (some critics have gone so far as to call it crass).

John Lewis’s ad manages to strike that same resonant chord within all of us who have ever loved so unconditionally – evoking childhood memories of innocent, magical Yuletides-past – but does so whilst tying in the John Lewis brand, as well as the brand that is Monty the Penguin.

All I Want for Christmas is You, and You, and You and You

Of course this was never going to be a two horse race. Every high-street retailer and major brand wants to “take it all” this Christmas, and they’re prepared to fight tooth and nail for it.

The weapon of choice for Marks & Spencer this year is social media. Having dropped widely-recognisable faces from their adverts, they’ve instead chosen to create their own personalities to front their Christmas campaign – “Magic & Sparkle”.

The advert itself has all the requisite Christmassy magic you’d expect from the upmarket retailer, all sprinkled around by its eponymous heroines, but it’s with social media where M&S are aiming to make a real impact, using the hashtag #FollowTheFairies.

Take a peek at their Twitter account and you’ll see how they’ve bottled that spread-the-cheer festive spirit and let it loose all over the Twittersphere ; cultivating a strong, active following of users who are more than happy to help share the M&S Christmas message.

Verdict: Stylish, feel-good ad that captures the values of the brand. Highly effective social media campaign that captures the spirit of the times.

Some people will tell you that Christmas hasn’t truly begun until that big red Coca-Cola truck makes its appearance. There’s certainly a kernel of truth in this, ever since Coca-Cola started running Christmas adverts in 1933, when it featured a red-suited, white-trimmed Father Christmas for the first time. This, famously, helped curb the idea that Santa Claus should be dressed in red, rather than green.

Ensuring the holiday season remains synonymous with your brand wins the fight for Christmas supremacy hands-down, in my opinion. They took the season’s most recognisable icon and dressed him in a Coca-Cola uniform. If they could have gotten away with a snow-dusted red and white Christmas tree, I’m sure they would have done.

Their 2014 offering veers from traditional adverts-past and goes down a similar road to Marks & Spencer, with acts of random kindness being carried out in the name of peace on earth and goodwill to all men who drink Coca-Cola.

Verdict: Touching and effective. Coca-Cola will have already been most people’s soft-drink of choice this year anyway.

Britain’s biggest supermarket, Tesco, are under severe pressure to perform this Christmas. Widely-reported losses of customers and sales, along with over £200m of mislaid profits, means nothing short of a miracle will save them. But this is, after all, the time for miracles.

The advert is a beautifully observed film that encapsulates the anticipation of the countdown to the big day, marked by the turning on of lights all across the country. There’s a sense of proportion that Tesco are closer to the community than most. But this leaves a restriction for spectacle and awe that other retailers have shown.

Verdict: Positive and relatable, if underwhelming.

For many, cosying up with a good movie on Christmas Day is key part of the festive season. This is where Sky want to ensure they are everybody’s – mums, dads and kids alike – number one choice this year.

The advert captures the excitement of family movies perfectly, taking cues from house-hold favourites such as Pixar and Disney, and delivers a showcase of their ‘product’ with real panache.

Verdict: Clever, inventive and funny. And that’s what post-Christmas Lunch movies should be all about.

All That Glitters is Gold, Most of the Time

Perhaps the biggest surprise out of this year’s crop comes in the form of Aldi’s glitzy, ambitious offering, proving once and for all it’s not all about low-cost European imports.

That clever tracking-shot of dining tables across the globe – and beyond – ties this advert together in a neat little package that gives a clearer insight into Aldi’s culinary contributions to everybody’s Christmas. The mere fact you never get to see what they’re selling isn’t the point, it’s the scene (or rather multitude thereof) that really counts.

If Aldi wanted to prove once and for all they’re part of the establishment, I’d say thier 2014 Christmas ad finally cracks it. And that’s the mark of a successful campaign.

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Written by Lee Currie
Lee is the content manager at Monetise and loves all things marketing. He oversees article production and publication on the Monetise website.